Thursday, December 30, 2010


Ahhhhggghhhh.  What a week.  Amazing I made it out the other side.  Seasons greetings, merry Christmas, and happy holidays to all and sundry, nonetheless.  Me, kind of overdosed on merriness and whatnot....nothing bad, just tired.

That said, any religious group wanting to proselytise at my house now have a new and non-negotiable requirement:  the religion, whatever it is, MUST celebrate Christmas or Christmas-equivalent  in some period excluding mid November thru Mid January.  Period.  Elder gods not excepted.  If I have to shop for anything special over this period, anything, I'm sticking to my current cultural arrangement.........I might anyway: Cthulhumas, even  in August doesn't seem like a good trade: Santa claws rises from the depths and agonizingly eats your soul first, so you don't have to suffer thru the end of days when all mankind is devoured by the horrors and the abyss while running mad and free.  Marginally worse than the mall in December, so, sorry, no improvement, no sale. 

On gaming news, I'm going to run Swords and Wizardry for my ten year old  son and some of his friends, as well as one of my friends tomorrow (a sanity anchor, sorta) .  wish me luck !

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Swords and Wizardry review, part III : What is in it, and what I like.

Okay. Now that we know why I love it, and what it looks like, let’s see what the heck is in it.
First off, a list of tables in addition to a table of contents. Good work there. Table finding is a perennial chokepoint for games. This should speed it the heck up. Strongly suggests that effort and thought has been put into actual ease of use in addition to ease of rules.

Characters. No Surprises here. All the stats you expect with the usual names. Generation is 3d6 in order or GM moderated move-around. Stat bonuses exist, and are between the LBB minimal effects and the Greyhawk extremes. AD&D as I recall reduced the value of bonuses, but made them easier to get; on the whole, I think this solution is good enough to provide adequate character flavor while not supporting munchkinism. Also, and this is one I really like: only fighters get the to hit and damage bonuses for high Str. AND, this specifically excludes paladins and rangers. Good way to make fighters more unique and less vanilla: when it needs to be hit very very hard, call a fighter.

STR gives penalties for whimps, and bonuses for fighters -real fighters, not rangers and Paladins.  So, expect to be giving your luunch money to the fighter, or be willing to get familiar with the nearest trashcan....This is one of the nicer and more elegant ways to make fighters more than just the vanilla class of gaming. Well done !

DEX: The dex bonus/AC effect is interestingly linked to the fighter, also. Everyone gets a mild bonus to AC for high dex, but only fighters get a special bonus for defensive fighting. What defensive fighting entails is left intentionally undefined (according to a post by Matt). Is it a constant bonus, or one that the fighter can apply instead of attacking? Your call, and that's just fine. I’ll keep it as a bonus used when the fighter deliberately decides to not roll an attack. It’s another cool way to differentiate fighters from the mixed types (Rangers, Paladins).

CON: minor bonus for higher levels, but they have returned to the old “raise dead survival” rules. Roll the number or less, or the raise spell fails, or the major system shock kills you. My opinion is that anything that makes death a bit more of a real risk (rather than just a setback) is good. There are correspondingly good limits to the spell “Raise dead” also. Me, I’m also going to include the “each time you have to roll, if you succeed, you still lose 1 CON” point rule; because I’m mean, that's why.

INT: The rules do include one of my least favorite Greyhawk+ additions, the spell knowledge rules; you know, limits numbers of spells, and chance to comprehend them. I don't like them for two main reasons; first, it’s an annoying chore and doesn't have much positive payoff except pissing off the characters player; and second, its one of the misplaced attempts to balance out Magic users. Why misplaced? Well, because while the observation that Mages are the Powerhouse characters, it’s only later in the game –after 6th level or so, they start dominating the game. Unfortunately, most of the balance attempts are applied at the beginning of the MU’s career (d4, spell knowledge) when they are at their absolute weakest. The net result really is to winnow the weak and stupid MU’s, which on a population level probably works fine to limit the number of them, but from a character perspective, only adds frustration…..and doesn't solve the problem, because the survivors still gain the abilities that let them dominate play. My 2cp anyway.

Wisdom and charisma, well, y’know. Yeah.  Whatever. 
Actually, high wisdom does help that saddest of first level characters – the no-spell cleric. High Wis gives cleric (specifically) an additional 1st level spell.

All the canonical OD&D book and supplement classes are there with the addition of the Ranger from (at the time) the Strategic Review. No illusionists or barbarians, though. I won't miss either cause illusions are always the hardest spells to deal with (as a GM); and I’ve never felt that a barbarian needed to be its own class. Really, ranger works pretty wells for that, or, get this, a fighter with a high dex. (And an all-too rational fear of magic). [Look guys. Conan wore armor when he knew he was going into battle if he had it. If he was sneaking, no, and when he is out on the town? Seldom. When he was fresh from Cimmeria? Didn't have any. Lots of historical warriors couldn't afford armor and never had it. FRPGs tend to make it the exception, not the norm. Enough. Maybe a later rant.]

Basic comments on canonical classes
The list includes Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, MU, Monk (sigh), Paladin, Ranger, Thief. I guess one has to include monks, but really – they just don't fit in a eurobiased setting –which D&D is, no arguments allowed from anyone. I mean, they work great in Asian settings, and even the old west, but semi-hemi-demi-tolkeiny-1300ish Europe-Scandinavia? Really guys –King Fu was great fun, but did it really need to be fossilized into amber as a vital part of D&D? Okay, again, more ranting for later.

Assassins are probably not for my campaign, but so what and druids have a better justification than just a bow to the celty-welty artsy-fartsy dancy-wancy crowd (Hi Kristen!).

Clerics are either Law or Chaos (which is the good old good guys, bad guys axis); no neutral clerics on the fence; those are Druids. Nice flavor. Gods seldom compromise on their views so their clerics shouldn’t either; and neutral isn't just fence sitting for druids: they just do not care what the gods want – not the gods of Man (and demi-man).

Mages: Fine, Vancian fire and forget dudes (no explanation given for why magic works that way, which is fine by me) who cannot use any armor or shields. Why? Because they can’t, pilgrim, and it says so right here.

My take on it (and as I'm sure you know, the correct one) is extrapolated from Larry Niven: no magic user with an ounce of self respect would admit that he needed something as mundane and common as armor to protect himself; his huge intellect and might mystical powers are all he ever needs. Thus, in MU school, any armor-prone student is mocked and persecuted until they give in or quit. And the other Mages always know, so while you may wear underwear of the other gender, non-one, no-one at all, dares wear armor even in secret. End of story.

Thieves. Well, goody, they are there. As thieves, too. Rogues. Peh. Rogues are for thespians and Errol Flynn movies. The mouser stole from the rich and gave it to himself, bartenders and whores. Thief.

Unfortunately, and probably unavoidably, they are still the greyhawk model, which presumes that the thief starts as a much younger and more Noobish character than any of the others. Really, except for climbing, they can’t do jack at first level unless you assume that their “skills” (stop spluttering you OSR pundits) are actually extraordinary abilities, rather than stuff everyone can do. I can’t remember who suggested this, but the essence is that one should read the original thief abilities as written, not just as hyped descriptions of normal skills. In short, hide in shadows really means the ability to be Batman (tm DC comics) and vanish and appear from normal sight; Climbing means going up a glass or ice wall with no tools, pocket picking is the stage magician type that really does steal your tie without you noticing, and lock picking –well, in a medieval society, it's a pretty rare skill, so that works. It’s suggested in the rules, but not explicitly made plain, so, had I written it, it would be different with a great big huge font statement that anyone can hide or climb but thieving abilities are special, above the norm on a par with spell casters special abilities. Are you there Matt? Next edition, MAKE IT SO. Well, y’know, if you want, I guess……

I like the Box about “why play a cleric or fighter”. It highlights that there are some actual advantages to the core classes that the variants types do not get. Good ones, too. Some simple rules on starting a second class which are much more consistent with the AD&D model than the 3e model. I’m agnostic about which is better, and one could easily do either. The rules are simple and clean as given and work well enough.

Okay, good old fashioned racial list (which really should be species, but I digress). They aren't race as class, and have the lovely illogical level limits one would expect. Multiclassing is the forte of the non-human, with stat modified level caps. Interestingly, the actual multiple classes allowed are specifically spelled out – not the infamous “pick any three from 4 classes” mold of the extremely annoying half elf. Actual guidance as to how to manage these levels is given, which is cool. Both of these (specific combinations and some coherent rules for multiclassing) are improvements that Original D&D badly needed, and only got in dribs and drabs, so, Win. Bonus win is the explicit statement that Non-Player versions of the races do not follow the same rules! Yay! And bonus points for not including some fluffy bizarre rationale for why that is. (You should be sensing a trend by now regarding this topic).

Yeah, everything you need is there, based on the D&D gold piece economy. I’m more forgiving about that now that I’ve tried to design a “more realistic one”. Historical economics is….well, insane, hard to do, and barely documented. So, whatever. It works, and this isn't papers and paychecks, or Malls and misadventures, so drive on.

Experience is unabashedly pegged to killing stuff and stealing their flatware just as in the Original game you loved, with the benefit of clarification and streamlining. None of the typical alternates are presented, which probably cut down the page count significantly. Killing and looting is the baseline, and actually kinda sorta makes sense , if you treat this as some kind of epic/mythic kind of story/saga in which great deeds and great rewards always made a hero mightier, if for no other reason than his rep increased, and he could reward the bards more richly. .
I do admit that I’ll probably be adding some balancing factor for simple loot to experience, probably that at higher levels (after about 3rd level seems right), and no more complicated than that if you spend some of it on gear or training upgrades, class obligations, or squandering it perhaps.

Saving Throws:
I like having just one saving throw, so obviously Matt is correct in having only one, but, for those who are incorrect, a good old fashioned multiple save by threat table is presented, along with some recommendations as to how to integrate them.

More stuff:
Weight and movement are covered adequately and concisely –of particular goodness is including cross country movement rates with indoor and tactical movement rates in one place. Score one for a low flip and seek factor in the rules.
Time:  Passses.

Combat, The BIG C, Bloody constraint, WackAnOrc.
Well, here’s the thing. You either love D&D’s roots as a miniatures wargame, or hate em. I’ve seen very little middle ground (not that the internet is any place to find it, I admit.). I am in the first category, but have come out the other side of the wargamers delusion, which is: more realistic equals more complexity and consideration of more variables and modifiers. My rules of choice of Mini gaming has become HOTT/ DBA1.0, as opposed to WRG6/ Tactica/Frappe/etc etc. where it started okay? Combat is important, but really, what we want to simulate is the results, not the process. People need to be able to move, shoot hit and cast in a system that allows basic tactics and cunning along with pure luck, without slowing the process down by orders of magnitude, especially compared to actual combat... That's pretty much all I need, and from my SCA experiences fighting in melee (in armor), works just fine.
So, the combat rules are fine, very close to what one gets with LBB/GH with rationalized centralized interpretations, and lots of clearly identified options. For instance, initiative is presented in three forms: The default one (pretty much pre AD&D), the Holmes one, and a cool one which takes the rules from Eldritch wizardry and makes them playable. I’ll be trying out the phased movement version really soon, but using the basic generic version with those players who really don't care about detail (e.g., my son and his buddies).

Some nice developments in the RPG field of combat are included, such as fighting from a second rank, but not attacks of opportunity. This may be a bit of a wrench for the hard core 3E players, as it’s become so central to the game, but, probably is for the best. Basically, a quick explanation of the issue is provided, with resolution explicitly left up to the GM. This is one are that I would have liked a bit more detail about, but its not like I wouldn't do it myself, anyway, plus, I’m an old school wargamer. YMMV.
Weapons do varying damage by type (only) and aren’t differentiated by armor effects at all. Which is fine. I always loved the idea of weapon vs. armor modifiers, but it always turned out to be more trouble than its worth…always. Sigh.
Armor class is presented both ways, country and western. As an aside, I always liked descending AC because I tied it directly to movement: base move was 4 + AC, with load carried reducing the constant. I may or may not worry about this for S&W.

Combat uses lookup tables by class, not the most elegant solution, but the one in keeping with the subject matter. Yearning for the jump up to a better column was a big part of the original experience, and so here it is, although it’s not as severe. You can calculate THAC0 again, so if you hate lookups, that's the way to go, especially in the absence of Weapon vs. Armor modifiers to hit. Oh yeah. The monsters have their own table, based as ever entirely on HD, and it's a bit better organized. This goes up for every HD, so monsters have much more granular combat progression than ….well, non monsters. Also, I note that 1 1HD monster still has a better to hit than a 1HD character; I suppose monsters always need an edge or they’d just be Victims. And Dungeons and Victims just sounds depressing.
Subdual is spelled out and clear rules presented. Fighting with two weapons and two-handed weapons is covered simply and in one place, the solution is elegant, if a bit flavorless, but they match up with the rules for fighting with a shield, and, remember, I’m a combat rules geek.

Grappling, the eternal pain in the butt (hmmmm….a white wolf supplement?) has rules, (that at least is an improvement over most of D&D pre 2E), they’re simple, and at the same level of abstraction as combat, so if not revolutionary, I’ll call that a success. Plus, they don't seem to be arsed by monks, which is a plus –assuming you allow monks, which is a wrong thing to do, so stop it.
How turning undead works is very clearly laid out, thank the gods; it isn't the most common variant, but it works, and that's that. And note: only LAWFUL clerics can do it. With undead. Heh heh heh.
Damage death and healing are all standard harsh old D&D (0=dead, heal 1/day), with some alternative ways presented. Check.

Morale, as ever is unfortunately shorted big time. Possibly for compatibility, possibly to save page count, possibly just to annoy me personally, it’s basically ignored beyond the usual note that Monsters don't always attack or fight to the death. Well, yeah, true, but everything else gets at least a table. Well, this is probably because D&D’s Ancestor, Chainmail come from a specific era in miniature gaming, that ignored or minimized morale effects, and I don't. I want tables and modifiers dammit, ones that indicate that the standard bearer must be moved back one inch! Take note for the next iteration, Matt ‘cause I just know that my opinions are of greatest possible importance to you! (See my rules for keyboards and bathrobes….)
OKAY. Here we come to an example of play, and so the page count for everything you need to know about creating characters and killing bystanders is……$# pages ! Or, 43 with the shift lock off. That is a wondrous achievement right there. Seriously.
Okay, the rest is five pages of campaign and strategic notes and rules (hiring, building, etc) and okay if not very elaborate (I always hated that there weren’t better guidelines for building strongholds and the like; S&W is a bit better than book 3, but not much –this is kind of a weak spot.

Page 50 starts Magic, and is, unsurprisingly, an adequate list of spells from the LBB/GH books, all in one place, with some nice variants suggested here and there. Each has a summary of crucial game info (Range duration type and level, and the usual blurb. None of the VSM components garbage, which is fine by me. Does anyone ever run a pencil and paper tabletop campaign where that is rigorously tracked? Does any one play in it? If so, does getting on a high dose of anti OCD meds help you not want to?

Pet peeve. Stop mixing up clerics and spellcaster spells, and while alphabetical listing is nice for details, I really prefer alpha by level. Why? ‘Cause I’m a useless old fart, I suspect, but one who has played lots of spellcasters. I almost always know the name and level of any spell I look up, and the level acts as an index to speed it up. There. I feel much better, now, thanks.
Spells take up 23 pages, or about 15-20% of the whole which is better than most rules sets, and is probably an unavoidable result of the convenience of a Vancian spellcasting system.
I’m going to stop detailing things here, because I’m out of steam and time; the rest is a good GM section, with wilderness rules and encounters, a good selection of Monsters, and a very nice dungeon building section.

There are basic mass combat rules, as well as very basic rules for nautical and aerial combat. Both are more abstract than what was presented in LBB3, and even I can’t say if that's good or bad. Nowadays there are so many sets of rules available for this kind of stuff, that it isn't the handicap that it was in ye Oldenn Dayes.

Treasure is handled nicely, with a good hoard generator table and rules, and tan expected set of magic items and the like. One complaint is this: possibly I’ve missed it, so tell me if I have, but I still haven't found any rules for spell research OR creating magic items. It's a shame, because this was (for me) one of the biggest issues with the old D&D rules. Oh well. I can probably graft on the 3E rules which are pretty good; I always like the magic items for experience points system – money was easy to get, but XP? Now that's a rare currency

Okay, that is it. It's the holidays – get offline and get bent on eggnog and cookies, fer criminys sake! GET THESE RULES! They are Excellent. I’m not kidding. I have so many RPG’s that….well, I don't have them all, but I’m closer than I’d like to admit; and these are the ones I’m going to be using to run D&D and teach my spawn how to play. THESE. Matt take a bow, give him a big hand, and somebody local run the game so I can play! THANKS and Merry Christmas to all and sundry, and also my subscribers! (I hit 40, YAY!)

xxxoooo Your gushing fanboy, DocGrognard !

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Swords and Wizardry Review Part II: the OCD stuff.

This is a continuing review of the PDF edition for the Complete Swords and Wizardry, first edition.

Part II: The graphics and layout which for some reason always get reviewed despite RPG’s being a frikkin toy, so here you go.

The art is fine, the cover makes it to impressive, and if I have any criticism, it may be that it almosts oversets the bar for the rules.  But, no, at the last minute I look inside, and find that the layoout and graphics are just fine for the content and style of the rules.  The cover is a nice bonus, not a harbanger of selloutitude and graphicbarfing.  . I can live without art or fancy graphics just fine (remember, I’m an old school Traveller player which had....none. ) but some is always nice (sorry Marc) . The S&WC edition has a variety of nice art, various styles, and none of it overwhelms the text; all seems in keeping with the “rich experience, simple structure” of S&W in general. Granted, that is a subjective description of a subjective subject, but its my blog, buddy..

The graphic presentation is fine and easily readable. Two columns with embedded headers works just dandy, and they don't seem to have fallen into the “piece of art on every page regardless of content” trap. There are occasional empty spaces on the pages where (for instance)a table doesn’t fit, and gets bumped to the next page rather than being squished in, or being plastered with some random art fragment (I’m looking at you, Stevie..;) )and that’s fine.

Tables are clean, large full width (ie not column limited) and seem presented in close proximity to the rules. There are commentary boxes, which when not overdone (and these are not) are one of the better developments in gaming rules production, in my opinion. Sometimes, a brief statement of why a rule is as it is can avoid me spending obsessive amounts of time on thinking around it, and often answers common questions (which are usually criticisms on the internet, right ?) up front. Options are laid out separately from the “core” rules, which is fine, but still seems odd to me coming from the heart of the “all rules are guidelines” school of thought (the correct one, dammit). But whatever. Its nice that many of thee address issues and criticisms that the fan community have raised – the reasonable one, at least. For instance, the multi-saving throw school is thrown a nice juicy bone with the inclusion of an alternate saving throw table presented for “comparison”, and adds notes throughout about integrating the change if desired…nice, that. It seems quite well edited for typos and etc; but, I’m a crap editor myself, so I don't let it bother me in others; nonetheless, no complaints.

Font is fine (serif is good for fantasy, in my opinion), and I could not care less about kerning and similar issues in others work, and a PDF can’t speak to the binding or the paper, both of which have been commented on in reviews of other rule sets in ways that suggest that paper weight is an important buying point, so there you go, if it matters.

Next up: some actual text, and content please ?  Sure. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Swords and Wizardry, Complete Edition: SQUEEEEE!, the introductory comments.

Okay, confession time.

 I never really bought into AD&D. 

"Hello, my name is Doc Grognard, and I've been playing the same damn rules since 1976." "Hello, Doc"

See, what I and most of my ilk (or caribou) played at the time was a bastard stepchild that had evolved from the raggedy assed initial release schedule of AD&D. It was this: The three books, plus Greyhawk (almost entirely, Wep v Armor being a hit and miss inclusion, no pun intended) & odds and sods of the other supplements (Druids= YES, Psionics, Monks =NO, Assassins = MAYBE) plus the monsters from the first Monster Manual (with the wondrous Bumper book of all Monsters cover), some of the players handbook, and the combat tables from the Dragon issue that previewed them. An unholy mélange, with odd interaction effects: AC10 messed up all the earlier combat tables a bit, and took some on-the fly-modification; the races and classes were all in the same place (finally) and this was a big help, although the stats, requirements and class abilities differed enough to cause some problems; generally, the PH was used, except for rolling up stats (by purists) ; spells, not all that scattered, weren’t really altered much , and the VSM bits were always ignored except in extreme situations :
”Mage, you’re gagged, tied up, and stripped naked what do you do?”

“Uhhhh…..Cry? “
“Okay, roll for effect”
“That’s not a spell”
“I know…you're checking to see if the orcs think you look cute.."
(Okay, this was the Deep South. The dm actually said “t'see if the orcs think y' cry purdy”)

DMG? Never came out forever, it seemed, so its influence was minimal. The rules question letter to TSR that came back with (among other things) news that they were “reworking the entire system” (in red ink, no less) touched off a lunchtime bitch session worthy of any online forum (which probably says more about online forums than us, I suspect).

Dammit, we liked the version of D&D we cobbled together, and were not only pissed that finally the “all in one” Holmes came out as crippleware (Max level three ? Are we to be forever playing victims ?), but also that it was (to us cynical 16 year olds) sanitized and altered for no good reason (race as class? Yuck)and...kiddified . Basic? Pheh. Basic is for the slow kids, not us advanced students…….

So, really, for me (and my bunch) the main advantage of AD&D was that it put lots of the scattered D&D stuff in one place, even if it still required a fair amount of patching and juggling to make the numbers match (in either direction); no biggie, really – less books (magazines, Xeroxes and hand copied articles) was better than seamless rules in the day. It must also be realized that access, not simply convenience was a big deal; as this was way, way pre internet and barely post copier, some stuff , lots of stuff actually, was absolutely unavailable except as tantalizing rumors….we had one copy of the ranger class specs, handwritten and that from a guy who came to the games maybe twice a year (he had moved away for collage). Illusionists ….who? Bards? fergettit.

That said, this is why I have fallen unashamedly in love with complete edition Swords and Wizardry: It’s all there.

From about 1980 and back, it's the version of D&D I played all in one place, and in one system.

Now, let me hastily add this is not just another nostalgia wank. No indeed; this is unswerving refusal to move onwards. I’ve played almost all editions of D&D, but I’ve never run anything other than the 1979 MD&D (mélange D&D, my new term for the style –you read it here first). I’ve taken breaks from running D&D (Grad school, say, for instance) but it's always been that set of documents defining mashed-together rules, and mainly the same frikking campaign (see earlier posts about the antique wilderness).

Swords and Wizardry Complete is the damned rules set we wanted in 1980. This THIS THIS ! Three books + Greyhawk+ a bit of the other supplements, plus Dragon article classes and such with no need to shift back and forth from AD&D or shuffle a pile of paper, books and notes and with no added complexity or self indulgent fluff (see: Nomenclature of polearms) . YES ! SHOOT SCORE WIN !

 This is without a doubt the most helpful book for my campaign in, yes, about thirty years. The Majestic wilderness came close, as did several other attempts, but ! This actually allows me to use one book and port all the old characters NPC’s and etc over seamlessly. This is AD&D for those of us who didn't need help with the details of the rules mechanics, just with their organization and availability. Which is pretty much the opposite of what AD&D (and all later versions) did. This is The Traveller Book version of D&D !
So. Here I am, dancing around with my copies of S&W Complete (Hardback, and softback, plus printed out the PDF), all fired up to run some games, dude.
And to some of you, I’ll point out that it has THIEVES ! (got that Jeff and James ?) Wonderful petty sneaky self justifying, anti-heroic thieves. So, NYAAA to all you thief haters.
More to come, say, maybe an actual review, as time permits.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

memo from Department of recursive redundancy

Number of distinct entities not having purchased lucasfilms Star wars licence skyrockets with announcements of non-purchase by  Arm-chair General, LoTFP, Crustacian games, others !

Bulletin from the Rumor Control Department

I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and announce that Crustacian Games is NOT the mystery company that has purchased the Star Wars Licence.  Pity.  An all Admiral Ackbar's Race underwater version would be a hot seller, I'm sure.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Hellholes of the Traveller Universe

So, being busy, sick, and unable to concentrate on ranting about thieves and Why They Are Good and Jim and James are Wrong,  I present from the pages of Traveller forums (Mongoose and COTI) another installment in the Hellholes and dead ends of the traveller universe, showcasing what to do with those really really odd worlds that the random sysgen can spit, it's a rip off of a S&S story of some fame, which should be a gimmie to my sopisticated readers.

Re Dnailz D000161- 6
Type D starport (minimal), asteroid  , no atmos, no hydrospehere, up to 100 inhabitants, captive government, almost no law enforcement.

Re Dnailz is an involuntary colony created by the neighboring world of . was originally a repressive religious dictatorship facing not-unusual dissent of a religious nature. The dominant sect was religiously bound to allow allowed confessed heretics a choice of exile or death, but was unwilling to allow them to get loose in charted space as a whole, or to settle them on nice, worthwhile colony worlds and spread their beliefs. Accordingly, Re Dnailz (“a home for dissent”) was established on an asteroid in an otherwise barren neighboring system. Set up as a no G tunnel habitat derived from an automated mining and fabrication ship/installation, the colony has the minimum tech needed to maintain itself and provide a reasonable living standard (in theory) for the exiles. Bereft of the resources for space travel, let alone star travel, and permanently locked into trying to keep the systems running on a shoestring, the home world rightly judged that they would be too busy to export heretical ideas or indeed to do anything other than mine, fabricate, fix , crack ice, grow food, repeat.

At its height, Re Dnailz has a population of several thousands, however, it is currently fallen to (15-100), due to two issues: the first is that even in the most hardscrabble life, people will find ways to argue and fight, and this was, after all, populated exclusively by extreme and extremist sects; unexpectedly, the murder and “gang” related deaths were quite high. There was limited involvent in keeping order by of the official jailers from homeworld (themselves exiled, but trustees), but this has ended, as noted below.

Secondly, contact with the home world has ended. At home, the Religious government has collapsed in corruption and a very bloody rebellion, at one point installing a very anti-religious revolutionary government; given the damage to the planets infrastructure and the lack of interest in taking care of a bunch of what are seen as religious fanatics, the new government simply and quietly expunged all knowledge of the colony outside of its ruling council; most of whom died in the next round of rebellion and civil war. As a result, the loss of contact caused a massive upswing in sectarian violence, including significant damage to the environmental systems. What remains are the families of three brothers locked in a final feud to the death due to a fatal disagreement over a spouse. Currently only the two distant ends of the station are inhabited, with all habitable areas between being a battleground. Perhaps 90 survivors in two factions remain in Re Dnailz. (Or 15 if you want it really close and personal).

At least one of the anti-religious directorate members and her family fled to the colony for lack of any better idea, and lack of knowledge of how bad the situation had gotten.

An excellent adventure hook would be for the players to have to locate the now criminalized politician , possibly for the new(est) government, possibly for some information only she may have –such as, where is the iridium hoard that the priesthood is known to have had that disappeared in the first civil war and purge……

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why one old fart thinks another bunch of old farts are Wrong about the Thief in OD&D, part 1

Okay, Thieves. For Jeff and James, at the very least.
So, when I first started reading OSR blogs –long before I jumped in, I gradually realized that there was some sort of bias against thieves as part of original D&D. This was absolutely surprising, so I delved and found some reasoning behind this mean awful persecutory bias against the poor humble thief. Which, in case you haven’t realized, Is Wrong, and I say this having played back then. Which pretty much proves my point.
I was tempted to just end the post there, but it did occur to me that some of you very skeptical types may not be convinced by my all too persuasive appeal to my authority, so for you, I’ll continue.
Several arguments against the thief have been put forth, and these I think are the core:
1. It wasn’t in the first LBB(little brown books, Oe D&D) set

2. Something about not being true to the S&S roots of D&D

3. They are self justifying as a class

4. They caused the monstrosity that is the skill system that has been bolted on to D&D, and thus destroyed at least two generations of gamers by not letting them act like adventurers and instead just roll dice and add skill numbers to solve problems. (Yes, I have opinions about the 3/3.5 skill system, did you notice ?)

So, I’ll take these in some kind of order, across several posts. Then I’ll probably finish with a screed about how important the thief is to D&D. By which point, I expect that everyone will be converted to my opinion, right ? Jeff ? James ? Hello?

Okay, first: Thieves weren’t in the original D&D. I note in advance that this is all probably largely a straw man argument, as I really don't see the “wasn’t in LBB” argument being passed around very much and seldom more than casually. However, since this is my Blog, and my lunch hour, I’ll cop the low hanging fruit if I want to…
Yes, they weren’t in the LBB –not showing up until Greyhawk, as we all know. So they fail the Ur-test, which is a test of…..well, purity. Is it the original vision or not. the thief is not doctrinally pure, in other words. NO, I think that this is a bit of an error, and part of that is that it does set the OSR (Old School Revival/Renaissance/whatever) to look like a bit of a purity patrol; please note that I don't agree that OSR=Purity patrol, at all. But, this kind of appeal doesn’t help things. That's a tangent, though, so onward.

I think the argument of inclusion (or not) is meaningless for several reasons. First, GH(Greyhawk) showed up pretty much concurrently with the LBB set for at least 90% of the post 1st print players (me); I got LBB after I had already skimmed thru GH at the local store –and I went back and bought it at the first possible opportunity. (interestingly, BM(Blackmoor) was almost impossible to get for quite a while. I think I finally got a copy after GD&H came out). It fit hand in glove with the LBB rules – I bought LBB because I was a miniature gamer, but I bought GH because of the potential for it to make a minis supplement something more. And that was D&D the RPG.

Also, and I think this is important, I think its pretty clear that EGG always intended these rules to be part of D&D – but they are one of the areas of detail that he and DA differed on; so, the two additional campaign supplements. I’d also note that DA’s campaign specifically had thief types in its BM the Ur-campaign incarnation; that they weren’t included in Blackmoor the supplement is probably more due to avoiding repetition than anything else. I’d also argue (and I’ll do so later at more length), that D&D wasn’t differentiated from a miniatures game before Greyhawk…and the thief.

So, next. Probably the self justification issue and why It Is Wrong; or maybe the S&S angle. Or maybe another Traveller rant. Stay tuned….

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Life imitiates art; and bad art, at that.

In the wake of my (apparently) popular post of an RPG lampooning online game criticism and commentary, I thought I'd prove that I'm immune to irony and post a response I made to an involved, and interesting, but ultimately (as I'll point out) moot discussion about the Traveller trade , economic and technology system, and its relevence (if any) to the real world. 

---BEGIN RANT MGTFORUM05122010 ELECTINT[89%]------------------
The problem you point out is one of those odd issues that seems to be part and parcel of RPG worlds -SF or fantasy; insanely old cultures with absolutely static societies and technology. Why ? Literary bias, I think -simply because most seminal works had them, so does everyone. Relevance to topic ?

Well, this: Traveller is at its heart and intent, emulating a literary school - and one which has all those same issues. Partly because the stories, or at least their inspirations were written before the time of accelerated change, and by people who weren't economists, or, even if they were, were uninterested in that level of detail. It didn't help. So honestly, any overlap with "the real world" is just gravy.

The 800lb gorilla then, is this. There are thousand year societies because Piper, and Asimov, Anderson and Heinlein had them, and no other reason. There are trade systems that are only face valid (if that) in the real world but are there explicitly to create play situations like those of Van Rijn and the Foundation Traders. They create a play structure that emulates that style of fiction. If it doesn't work for you, do what authors like Gibson did, and strike out in a new direction; lots of the dystopian SF is a direct contrast to the golden age stuff, and it's available in RPG form in such SF systems as (hold on) 2300 and its cousins, the cyberpunk genre. I would argue that while they often have similar underpinnings, systems like CT and 2300 produce a very different play experience, simply and precisely because they are emulating different genres.

From my point of view, the level of detailed criticism (in the negative sense) presented above, and its opposition, are about as productive as population demographics based criticism of the lord of the rings; or, actually, criticizing traveller for failing to include Tom Bombadil, or original D&D for failing to address issues of implied FTL in spellcasting. The points are basically valid, but they really don't matter in terms of what is being presented. Grafting cyberpunk and information technology onto the foundation series makes it something very different (as we see with the later books in the series, attempting to explain Foundation society and stories IRL terms. )

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail and has always failed for traveler, is because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level. I'd reject many of the very gritty Trade and cartography systems (including those of later CT and MT) not because they are wrong, but because they don't help.

I think that this level of "based on the real world" modeling will always fail for traveler and is why it still hasn't been resolved after 30 years, far more than just the usual observation that times and econ theory changes with it. It wasn't part of CT simply because it was (and, IMO, is) irrelevant at such a detailed level to what is being produced. The literature does not support that level of examination, so one should not expect the emulation to do so. 

---------------------END RANT---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Next up:  I thought I'd alienate my current readership by posting my rant on thieves in OD&D, or, If You Think That Thieves Were Bad for Old Style D&D then you Don't Understand Old style D&D, and , lucky you, I'm here to tell you why you are wrong and should change your mind."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Keyboards and Bathrobes: Five Fold Alignment System

So, much to my surprise, KB&BR has zoomed to the top of my page hits, garnering twice as many as the next most popular page (BMoTU). So, as an avowed attention whore, I succumb to reader pressure and present a long lost supplemental post for KB&BR. I'd come up with a witty name for it, but all I can think of is "SemioticMoor", and frankly, that is obscure and sucks. So here goes: a huge bolus of pretentious text, plus one overanalyzed and extrapolated diagram.  Enjoy, and try not to choke.

Online Game critique five-fold Alignment System.

As is obvious to all, the empowerment of the experience of the game vis-à-vis the actions preformed, or rather Pre-formed by the player-participant will hopefully be informed (or, as is often the case, mis-informed) by an overriding structuralization of a behavioral script divined from continuous self (or character-self) observation and actualization assessment which is the goal of all right minded, forward-looking gamers; or, put otherwise, Alignment. Oft derided by the thespian (or rather Hypocritical Thespian) the characters alignment is not, as is often maintained by the unenlightened an artificial limb upon which a wobbly characterization may be perched like some kind of fantastical long-john-silver impersonator; RATHER, it is a crutch upon which a players character may walk from A to B without having to infuse, or rather pollute (or perhaps homogenize and genericize, thereby dumbing -down the thespio-gaming experience to the lowest common denominator which disagrees with deconstructionist gaming criticism) the actions with preconceived notions of play style and non-historical genre-inconsistent and non-canonical (or, more accurately Wrong ) reactions to the Player-directors shared psycho-imaginational world. Such crutches are absolutely necessary, for the simple reason that all players are inherently lame, and need to be carefully and coddlingly coaxed onto the sleeper car of the phantasmical wonderful plot train of the Game-stewards design. Lord knows mine do ! Thus, one sees that an utter artificiality of behavioral analysis and summation, the alignment, is in fact a necessity and a benefit insofar as it is easy to use to direct recalcitrant players behavior, and the extent to which it makes an otherwise incorrectly motivated player remotivate in proper local terms, as laid down by the immediate rules-interpreter.

Thus, we see that five points on a continuum can successfully and completely define, predict and simulate all behavior of online game critics, which, obviously, is almost entirely an overlapping set with all gamers; and thus, the set of all sets, including the conceptually empty set, is the five fold alignment set.

In general other than food and excretion, all gaming forum critics have two main emotional states: Attack and defense, and unreasonable fear or unconditional love of change; and one centroid state: Cluelessness.

The fear/love axis is defined by the Napoleonic nicknames specific to the old and young guard regiment of the French imperial army: Grognards (old grumblers) and Malenfants (Fussy infants).* The Grognards were the unmoving defenders of the old ways, and the Malenfants the obsessive early adopters of all that was new and shiny. One sees this dichotomy at all levels of gaming discussion, but, while often referred to, does not adequately explain what is observed; in point of fact, the missing element is how a given individual (such as they are) reacts to a challenge to their desired way of things (Stasis or Chaos): Rabid attack or Utter Defense. This is utterly independent of what one's passion for, or abhorrence of change or tradition. One can obstinately cleave to an ancient game or mechanic by constantly extolling its utter perfection and virtue; or one can cleave to an old system by constantly pointing how utterly flawed, fallacious and broken all other choices are. While it is physically and mentally possible for one to both attack and defend, one tendency always predominates; and, as one equalizes ones tendency to either lash out or turtle up, one approaches the state of cluelessness which is also achieved by an unhealthy balance of emotional attachment to change or lack thereof.

Thus, all discussions of gaming can be parsed by this dichotomous set of axes, with the origin being the classic clueless gamer who imagines that while discussion may be interesting, the point of gaming is in fact gaming, and not arguing about how one should game, or, indeed, the ultimate fallacy of considering that actual experience of a game is somehow more appropriate to the nature of games than constantly meta-arguing about how one should discuss gaming.

Thus, in a very real Holmesian sense, keyboards and Bathrobe plarer -conspirators (or rather, experience-gamingists subjects) fit one of five alignments: Grognard-cynic/Grognard-fanboi/Malenfant-cynic/Malenfant-Fanboi, as this simple diagram should make clear, with added reference points of specific fan groups and gaming types added for reference. 

*The justification for this terminology is that I know a lot about this subject, and wish , at some point in my life, to make sure that other people know that I know about it too.